What 50-year-old dirty diapers can teach us about the potential origins of life on Earth.

Apollo astronauts left their poop on the moon. We gotta go back for that shit.

From: VOX 

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil Armstrong’s iconic footprint is still there, undisturbed; there’s no atmosphere, no wind on the moon to blow it away.

But the bigger human footprint on the moon is, arguably, the 96 bags of human waste left behind by the six Apollo missions that landed there.

Yes, our brave astronauts took dumps on their way to the moon, perhaps even on the moon, and they left behind their diapers in baggies, on humanity’s doorstep to the greater cosmos.

The bags have lingered there, and no one knows what has become of them. Now scientists want to go back, and answer a question that has profound implications for our future explorations of Mars: Is anything alive in them?

These footprints are still on the moon. So is the astronauts’ trash.
 NASA

Human feces can be disgusting, but they’re also teeming with life. Around 50 percent of their mass is made up of bacteria, representing some of the 1,000-plus species of microbes that live in your gut. In a piece of poop lives a whole wondrous ecosystem.

Planet Earth has hosted this life and so much more for upward of 3.9 billion years. The moon, as far as we know, has been sterile and lifeless that whole time.

With the Apollo 11 moon landing, we took microbial life on Earth to the most extreme environment it has ever been in. Which means the human feces — along with bags of urine, food waste, vomit, and other waste in the bags, which also might contain microbial life — on the moon represents a natural, though unintended, experiment.

The question the experiment will answer: How resilient is life in the face of the brutal environment of the moon? And for that matter, if microbes can survive on the moon, can they survive interstellar travel, making them capable of seeding life across the universe, including on places like Mars?

Wait, astronauts pooped on the moon and just left it there?!

After Neil Armstrong descended from the Eagle lander, becoming the first human to set foot on the moon, the very first picture he took on the surface shows, yes, the moon’s cratered surface, but also a white jettisoned trash bag (or jett bag).

I can’t confirm there are feces in this particular bag (Buzz Aldrin declined to comment for this story), but there’s definitely one like it on the moon that contained or still contains human waste, according to the NASA History Office.

A jett bag lying beneath the Apollo Lunar Module in 1969. 
NASA

Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke spent 71 hours on the moon in 1972. On a recent phone call, he confirmed that the crew left human waste behind.

“We did,” he says. “We left urine that was collected in a tank … and I believe we had a couple of bowel movements — but I’m not sure — those were in a trash bag. We had a couple of bags of trash we kicked out on the lunar surface.”

(You might be thinking, “Wait he was on the moon for nearly three days and he’s unsure if he pooped there?” As he told me, “Three days is not bad to have without a bowel movement.” Fair enough?)

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